My Florida job, the dream job of every frostbitten Canadian kid, turned out to be as unpredictable as a bobcat in a hen house, only with less blood and death. Don’t be too disappointed— there was some blood, and some death. But if we are going to nit pick, I’ll just say, ‘It was similar to a bobcat in a henhouse.’ Anyway, I digress. The job came to my attention by way of a college friend who was employed in the horse industry. She knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone else, who was looking for a Canadian stable hand to work in Florida.
The plan was, to meet the someone at a stable east of Calgary, and do a job interview on a landline phone. Not for security reasons, but simply because in 1985, a cell phone was so large it took two men and a donkey to carry it.
My college friend, Robbie and I, went to the interview together. Just in case, the whole thing turned into a snatch and grab. A moment in time, where clever criminals, nab some unsuspecting Canadian, and sell them on black market eBay for body parts.
We drove into the yard of a well used horse facility, it showed the years of hard use, faded painted fences, drooping gates and a shabby old barn roughed up by time.
We come to a stop. No sign of an operating room.
“Are you sure about this?” asks Robbie.
I nod, the same kind of nod a bull rider gives to the gate man, decisive and quick.
We hop out of the vehicle and are promptly greeted by a middle-aged man wearing a straw cowboy hat. “ Howdy, I’m Clem.” He gives us a slick smile, shakes our hands good and hard, and then spits tobacco juice out the side of his mouth into the dirt. A little puff of dust protests the intrusion.
Robbie gestures to me, “This is my friend Debby.” She continues on, “ I’m Robbie. I work at Horse Haven. Lisa told me about the job.”
“Oh yeah, I know Lisa, nice girl. So which one of you is applying for the job?”
“Me.” I say holding up my hand like I’m back in school.
He looks me up and down, the same way a herd of cowboys would check out a lady at the Ranchman’s Bar in Calgary. “Okay, let’s get the show on the road,” said Clem walking towards a side door on the barn. “Follow me.”
Robbie glances my way, “You’re sure about this.”
“Uh huh.” I grunt, feeling a my guts churn.
He leads us into an office in the barn and sits behind a desk. “Any questions? Before I call Dick and Tracy?”
“Yeah, I’m just wondering how you know these people? How long you’ve known them?”
He squints his eyes a bit, rubs his chin and leans back in his chair; “I’ve known them about five years. The Fatterod’s are a well-known family on the show circuit. I transport horses across Canada and the States. I’ve had the opportunity to haul for them a few times. Dick is a heck of a nice guy. Great storyteller. ”
I nod, “You must meet a lot of people.”
“Hundreds.” He looks at his watch, and then looks to me, “Are you ready to do this?”
I look at Robbie.
She raises her eyebrows.
I bob my head, “Yeah, absolutely, lets do this.”
Robbie and I take a seat. We hover on the edge of a decrepit sofa with unidentifiable stains on the cushions.
Clem dials the phone, and then leans back to put his feet up on the wooden desk.
I remember wanting this job so badly, you know, that feeling of desire, when you’re not sure who to bargain with to get what you want? The guy with the pointy pitchfork, or the guy with the halo. I needed a fresh start in my dead end life. Forget the fact I had close ties to the customers at my other job, forget the fact I signed up to be a dancer at the Olympics in Calgary— one of the hundreds. Just forget about it. This would be a new opportunity under the sunny skies of a tropical paradise.
I listen to bits and pieces of Clem’s side of the conversation. “No, she’s not fat. No she’s not skinny.”
I’m just right. I think. Why does this conversation remind me of Goldilocks?
“She’s fit, blonde curly hair, no she’s not tall, she’s built like Tracy except bustier. He trails into a quieter conversation, which I can’t eavesdrop anymore unless I tuck myself under his arm, and even I have some limits.
Robbie and I exchange the classic— ‘I don’t know about this?’ look.
Hmmm, I guess he would need to know that I’m physically fit to do the job. I wish I knew for certain. Too bad I was mired in the 1980’s when I couldn’t even run a quick name search on a computer. The Internet at that time was akin to a fairy-tale, and Google wasn’t even spawned yet. It was black times in the eighties, my friends, black times. Do you think hundreds of years from now, the pre Google era, will be called the second dark age of technology?
“Hey, Debby, Dick wants to talk to you,” said Clem, holding out the receiver, and moving away from the desk.
I jump up snatching the receiver from Clem’s hand, “Hello.”
“Hi Debby, I hear you’re ready to pick up stakes, and move down here to work for us.” Dick has a nice, welcoming voice.
“Yeah, that’s right, I’m looking for a job change.”
“Where do you work now?”
“I work at a stable that boards standardbred and thoroughbred racehorses between races.”
“So what do you do for them?”
“I feed, water, clean stalls, bandage, medicate, and exercise the horses by riding, ponying or driving. I halter break the young ones, pretty much anything that needs to be done.”
“Great, you’ll be doing much the same here except with Quarter Horses.” He pauses, “Do you have any family?”
“Yes, my parents and two sisters.”
“Are you close?”
“I guess so. I mean they don’t live close to me, I only see them a couple times a year.”
“You’ll be okay leaving them behind?”
“Of course.” I frown, “I can still keep in touch.” I wonder why he would even ask me that?
“Can you be ready to come here in three weeks? The girl that’s currently working for us will be gone by then.”
“For sure. I’ll be ready to go.” Little bubbles of happiness rise up in me, I want to sing song at the top of my voice, “I’m going to Florida, I’m going to Florida.” But I don’t, because there is still this edge of the unknown.
“I’ll get Tracey, my wife to arrange for your flight to Miami. I think you’ll like it here,” his voice suddenly booms to life, “but you gotta watch the critters when you get here. Last night my son and I were having a barbeque at a friends place in the country. We took the truck out to check the pasture by the canal. My son Zack wasn’t paying attention, he got too close to the edge of the bank and bam! A gator the size of a small horse sprang up out of the water and tried to latch onto my son. I jumped on the gators back, and pinned him down until my son got to safety. It’s wild country out here. You gotta watch around the water. Gators are always looking to eat anything that happens to walk past. “
And apparently, I was looking to eat up all the bullshit dear Dick was feeding me. “Wow,” I said with honest to God enthusiasm. “That’s a crazy story. Good thing you acted so quickly.”
“Yeah, it pays to be wary in this part of the country.”
“So, you’ve lived in Florida all your life?”
“Oh, no we’ve only been in Okeechobee about a year. It’s pretty close to West Palm Beach. We own a nice little property, an orchard in the front, a real nice barn along with some outside stalls. You’ll see it all when you get here.”
“Okay, it sounds wonderful.” A little wondering bell sounds in the back of my mind, only been there a year. You have lots of Gator experience do you? Hmmm.
“Clem will get the rest of your details. And he can give you mine. Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah, I was wondering why you were looking for a Canadian to work for you? I would imagine there is plenty of other people nearer to you that could do the job?”
“Well, Deb, We have hired Canadians before, and we always found they worked better than hiring the locals.”
“Thanks,” I smile into the phone, “I always thought we had a good work ethic, but it’s nice to hear it.”
“Any other questions?”
“No, I think that’s it.”
“Happy Travels Deb, see you in three weeks, I’ll pick you up at the airport.” He pauses, “Oh, and how will I identify you?”
I’m quiet for a second, running through my wardrobe in my mind. “I’ll be wearing a red coat with a TL in a horseshoe on the back.”
“Ok, I’ll be wearing red pants.” He chuckles, “You won’t miss me. See you then.”
Red pants huh? I wonder if he had some gold chains to go with that? Whoo hoo, I was going to Florida to meet Dick. I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or terrified.